From his iconic work with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers to ultimatley fronting The Desert Rose Band, Chris Hillman’s contributions to country-rock (and music in general) has been undeniable. He recently made the rounds to promote Laurel Canyon, a first rate docuseries that premieres May 31 on Epix.
Featuring interviews with Chris Hillman, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Michelle Phillips, Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt and a host of others, Laurel Canyon centers on the lives of musicians who lived in the Los Angeles hillside neighborhood during the mids ’60s through the early ’70s. Directed by Alison Ellwood (History of the Eagles), the documentary premieres on Epix May 31 at 9 pm et/pt and concludes the following Sunday on June 7 (9 pm et/pt).
During the brief chat I asked Hillman about his memories of Laurel Canyon and his continuing passion for music. Hillman’s last solo album, the 2017 effort Bidin’ My Time, was produced by Tom Petty and he also reflected on that experience.
Well Greg I rarely drive up Laurel Canyon and I don’t live in LA anymore but having done that a couple of times in the past year . . . you know you’ll look you’ll drive by a street and remember living on that street. I lived on the street that was right opposite the Laurel Canyon Market. All the way at the top – I live up there.
It pretty much states it quite well with the participants in the documentary that here was this magical place that was minutes from the Sunset Strip and all this activity and excitement. Within five minutes you’re up the hill and you’re in this beautiful area which was a place to live back in the late ’40s and early ’50s too.
Most of the artists – the bohemians a lot of the actors live up there so it was all an ongoing process. I have no idea who lives up there now in Laurel Canyon. I’m sure the same kind of people. Artists, musicians, actors, etc.
A trademark of your career is that you have collaborated with so many different artists. For you, has it always been about the music as opposed to achieving fame?
Well I did love music and I initially when I started I was very shy. You see early footage of The Byrds in 1965, I’m in the back with the bass and then I eventually developed. I learned to write and I learned to sing.
I always felt I was a good band musician and actually Tom Petty, his last interview he did, it was so funny he said “I don’t think Chris really likes show business.” I saw the interview and went, “He’s right.” I never liked that part. I didn’t care if I was in a limousine. I didn’t care for any of that stuff.
I like to play music. I wasn’t seeking the throne so to speak and later it sort of came to me where I was leading the band and doing all the songwriting and lead singing later in the ’80s with The Desert Rose Band. I just enjoyed what I was doing.
Yes, I always stayed within the parameters of country music, having come out of bluegrass and traditional folk music. So country was always my well that I went back to and stayed pretty much – I never did an R&B album. It would have been terrible if I did. But I would explore other areas within the parameters of country music.
Tom Petty talked about wanting to do more albums with you. Do you have more solo albums in your future?
I don’t know. Tom fell write into my lap but that was one of my last conversations with him. I said, “I really appreciate what you’ve done.” He said, “what are you talking about?” I said, “You wanted to do this with me, I really appreciated it. It’s a great way to end the recording end of my life.” He said, “What are you talking about? I’m not done with you.”
I went “What?” and he said “We’re going to do a rock album and maybe a country album.” I said “Great.” He was such a wonderful guy to work with, and it never happened of course, but the fact that he said that was ever so beautiful and complimentary to me.
Chris thank you so much for your time and take care.
Greg, thank you buddy.